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More On Torture (And Geneva)

The comments in the other post were getting out of hand, particularly after it was Instalinked. But there was an earlier comment there that I really shouldn't let stand unchallenged, now that I have a break for the weekend.

The other point, separate from the moral issue raised by Bill, is that torture does not provide useful information. That according to experts.

So when you torture you are doing it not for the information content you wish to derive, but rather the sheer pleasure it gives the torturer. We don't need that pleasure given that we claim we are better than Al-Qaeda.

I don't accept the conclusion, because I don't accept the premise.

First, "the experts" disagree on the value of information gained by torture. Certainly, it's obvious that there is no guarantee that information gained under duress is valid. On the other hand, that doesn't imply that no information gained under duress is valid. And we aren't talking about inquisition, or confessions, here. We are talking about actionable (and often verifiable) information. For instance, if someone in custody knows the location of a kidnap victim, or a planted nuclear weapon, and they are unwilling to reveal it, what are we to do? If we get the information by duress, and we go to the location and find the victim or bomb, then apparently the information was both valid, and useful. Is the commenter really attempting to argue that because it was obtained by unsavory means that it is not?

Now whether or not it's immoral to attain such information by such means is a separate and debatable issue (unfortunately, we live in a complex world in which "it depends"). But to say that one cannot obtain "useful information" by such means is nuts. Even if "the experts" say it (and I don't think they all do, with due respect to Senator McCain, who is admittedly made of tough stuff). As commenter Cecil Trotter points out, George Tenet (is he an "expert"?) claims that Khalid Sheik Mohammed revealed a great deal of useful information under duress.

The notion that, even if we concede that we torture captured illegal combatants (I don't, at least not as a matter of policy), it is only because we are sadists, and that Dick Cheney enjoys a good cigar, and quaffs an infant smoothie, while watching people being tortured, is nuts. We are in a war. If we attempt to get information out of people using duress, it is because we seek the information, not because we like people to suffer. This is Bush (and Cheney) derangement, pure and simple.

However, human nature is human nature. And in recognition of the latter we have the Third Geneva Convention.

There seems to be a single-minded focus on the Geneva Conventions as protectors of prisoners' rights, even for prisoners who behave in utter violation of those Conventions. To do so is to display a profound ignorance of the primary intent of the Conventions, which were an attempt to reduce the impact of war on innocent civilians, a concept that our enemy holds in utter contempt.

This subject has been discussed multiple times in the blogosphere over the last few years, but apparently many of the commenters either haven't read, or have read and forgotten, or lacked the reading comprehension to understand it.

The Conventions require that combatants fight in recognizable uniforms. Why? So that it makes it easier to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, and to reduce the incidents of collateral casualties.

The Conventions require that combatants not wage war from designated sanctuaries such as churches, mosques, hospitals, or ambulances. Why? I'd like to think that the answer is obvious.

The Conventions require that those waging war accept the Conventions. Why? Because if not, then there is no point in having them, since people who violate them would still be granted the benefit of them.

Since 911, in the face of the most ruthless enemy imaginable, who would wipe us off the face of the earth with the flick of a finger had they our power, we have fought the most humane war in the history of humankind. We have spent untold billions of dollars to develop precision weaponry that can destroy a building while leaving another one right next to it intact, that can destroy a tank while leaving a car sitting next to it unscratched. We (and the Israelis) will send in troops and risk their lives to take out specific terrorists, when we could instead simply wipe out a neighborhood, safely from the air. Why? Simply to avoid civilian casualties. We have rules of engagement that put our troops at further risk, so that we don't accidentally hit a civilian.

But we have an enemy that not only hides in mosques and ambulances, and behind women's skirts, but one that rejoices in deliberately murdering civilians, even of their own religion.

When people unthinkingly demand that we grant the rights of standard POWs stipulated by the Conventions to illegal combatants, they are in effect demanding that we violate the Conventions, and they are in fact undermining the purpose of the Conventions. This isn't about having "moral authority" in the eyes of the world (a dubious premise, anyway, given how little moral authority most of the world has). That's like worrying about what gangsters think about our occasional speeding tickets. No, it's about trying to enforce the rules of war that were an (admittedly paradoxical) attempt to civilize it.

But when the focus in the news is on how awful we are, and how it's all our fault that Muslims murder Muslims in Iraq, and the more they murder each other, the more news it makes in the western press, and the more we are blamed for it, it is giving the enemy exactly the kind of propaganda they want, and feed on. Only when the news media start to tell the whole story of what's going on over there will we start to win the real war that we're losing in the media, even as we win it on the ground.

Posted by Rand Simberg at June 02, 2007 11:42 AM
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"torture does not provide useful information. That according to experts."

That is if you only listen to so called experts that happen to agree with your preconceived ideas. George Tenet is an expert (even according to BDS sufferers, but only when he agrees with them) and he says otherwise. KSM was interrogated aggressively, tortured if you like, and he did provide useful intel. Who needs more proof than that?

Posted by Cecil Trotter at June 2, 2007 12:05 PM

Gleen Grennwald quoted in the other comments:

"The reason that it is news that the U.S. tortures, but not news that Al Qaeda does, is because Al Qaeda is a barbaric and savage terrorist group which operates with no limits, whereas the U.S. is supposed to be something different than that. Isn't it amazing that one even needs to point that out?

"But neoconservatives and other Bush followers do not recognize that distinction and do not believe in it. They see an equivalency between the U.S. and Al Qaeda -- since they do it, we are justified in doing it. And thus, based on that equivalency, they demand that the media treat stories of torture from the U.S. and Al Qaeda exactly the same, as though they are equally newsworthy.

Greenwald is a liar, pure and simple. If we did not recognize the distinction, we'd be taking non-combatant hostages and beheading them and circulating the videos. We would have invaded and leveled Iran and Saudi Arabia long ago.

Of course, Greenwald and the left don't make the equivalence either. They apparently think US is actually WORSE than al-Qaida because they see what al-Qaida does and say nothing. Qui tacet consentire videtur. With that in mind, my personal opinion is that Greenwald and those who agree with him are worse than al-Qaida. Pedica eos.

Posted by Jim C. at June 2, 2007 02:14 PM

Mr. Simberg,

Hear, hear!!!

To those of you who insist on ethical standards, ask yourself this question:

From whence come ethical standards, and what brings them into disrepute?

It isn't an abstract, theoretical exercise in rational clarity. It is, rather, a practical exercise of the utility in spilling blood to avoid shedding blood.

If the "ethical" standard insists that I not spill blood at all, and shed my own, then it is going to have a pretty tall hill to climb.

Posted by MG at June 2, 2007 02:22 PM

"The experts" disagree on the value of information gained by torture.

This is the fallacy of the bad hypothetical. The Americans who have been caught torturing detainees in the war on terrorism weren't experts. They weren't following any logical theory of interrogation; they weren't in any pressing emergency that required extreme measures; and in many cases they tortured innocent people.

The notion that, even if we concede that we torture captured illegal combatants (I don't, at least not as a matter of policy),

Right there, in parentheses, you're shifting your ground. What you said before was that when an Abu Ghraib happens, "we" punish the perpetrators. (Of course "we" should be "they", because it refers to the federal government rather than to all Americans.) This is just as false today as it was yesterday. They clearly do excuse torture whether or not they order it. There is no other explanation for two months of house arrest as the punishment of torturing a man to death.

Has the Bush administration authorized torture outright? It's unclear because of excessive secrecy, but they have certainly implied it. Before 9/11, no one had any trouble calling waterboarding torture. But since then, they have laid claim to it as a valid interrogation method. As the New York Times has documented, they got these interrogation methods from an Army manual for training American soldiers to withstand enemy torture methods. To turn around and call them official methods of interrogation is a pro - torture policy.

How it's all our fault that Muslims murder Muslims in Iraq

This is a wild change of thread. The reason that the US is getting blamed for the civil war in Iraq is that we (or rather, Bush) promised the opposite. He bragged that he liberated Iraq; he bragged that he prevented a civil war; he bragged that he gave Iraq democracy; he promised Iraq peace, freedom, unity, baseball, and apple pie. It's because he overpromised so much for so long that he's now getting blamed for it all going wrong. Unfortunately, so is the country that elected him twice. But maybe we'll make a better choice the next time.

Of course, Bush's lack of credibility on the torture issue doesn't help his lack of credibility on Iraq's rosy future. It doesn't help at all; at this point he has lost all too much credibility on all too many issues.

Posted by at June 2, 2007 02:57 PM

Before 9/11, who had *heard* of waterboarding? Most people would probably have thought it meant what has become known as Chinese Water Torture, which is something different.

I agree with Rand. The rules were written so that both sides had an incentive to follow them. Think of it as a variant of Prisoner's Dilemma, only with a positive/positive result in place of the "small negative for both". If I break Geneva, I may acrue certain benefits in harming the enemy population's morale and material support. But I stand to lose much as well if the enemy does the same to me. It's MAD on a small scale.

And what happens if one side in MAD starts lobbing nukes and the other backs down, afraid to lose what they have left?

Posted by Big D at June 2, 2007 03:16 PM

From whence come ethical standards

First, they come from American law. Waterboarding is a form of mock execution, and mock execution is a felony under American law. (With the exception, in case you saw it on Fox News, of a staged waterboarding acted out with full consent. That is an entirely irrelevant stunt which is not a mock execution.)

Second, they come from a common, decent upbringing. It's basic common sense in America that waterboarding is torture, that torture is wrong, and that torture by the government is very wrong.

and what brings them into disrepute?

Running away from American law. Torturing people out of the reach of the American justice system. Protecting torture by keeping it classified. Insisting that all torturers are punished, when many of them aren't punished at all, or only get a slap on the wrist.

Posted by at June 2, 2007 03:20 PM

Before 9/11, who had *heard* of waterboarding?

The Communists had heard of it. That's why it showed up in American training manual for how to resist torture. Here is an explanation with photos so that you can remember the point:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-corn/this-is-what-waterboardin_b_30480.html

Again, during the Cold War, no one had any trouble calling waterboarding torture, since it is after all a form of mock execution.

The rules were written so that both sides had an incentive to follow them.

You and Rand are evidently under the willful delusion that Americans have only tortured the other side in the war on terrorism. But that's not true either. Maher Arar is not on the other side. He is a Canadian-American citizen with no Al Qaeda affiliation. The US abducted him to Syria, where he was tortured for months. Canada and the US both signed the Geneva convention. If we want any cooperation from other countries in the war on terrorism, we would do better to follow the rules.

Posted by at June 2, 2007 03:29 PM

Canada and the US both signed the Geneva convention. If we want any cooperation from other countries in the war on terrorism, we would do better to follow the rules.

The Geneva Conventions require that illegal combatants not be given the same priviledges that legal combatants earn by virture of their following the rules of land warfare. The Geneva Conventions are all about providing an incentive to civilize warfare. If you afford illegal combatants who are not following the rules the priviledges that should have been earned by following the rules, the whole basis on which the Geneva Conventions are founded is undermined. No one need adhere to the rules, since there is nothing to be gained.

Posted by Rocky at June 2, 2007 04:08 PM

The Geneva Conventions require that illegal combatants not be given the same priviledges that legal combatants

The Geneva Conventions do not require ill-treatment of anyone. And Maher Arar was never an illegal combatant, nor any kind of combatant at all. He was a false lead who was tortured in Syria on behalf of America.

Arar is not the only one. Many people who have been detained at Guantanamo also aren't combatants of any kind. That's why many of them were let go, after a few years of imprisonment without explanation.

(NB Maher Arar is a Canadian citizen, not Canadian-American as I wrote.)

Posted by at June 2, 2007 04:16 PM

An excellent post, Rand.

Posted by Jonathan at June 2, 2007 07:58 PM

Rand,

Are we in favor of allowing the use of sleep deprivation, induced hypothermia and water-boarding by agencies of the U.S. Government? Under a current reading of Article III of the Geneva Convention and the Convention Against Torture (to which we are a signatory); do you believe these techniques violate either of them, in the context of the 5th, 8th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution? If no, we need to explain how they donít.

Second, explain why, given the difficulty of determining whether a captive is or isn't an enemy combatant (as well illustrated by you given the nature of this conflict), such persons should not be subject to greater protection than that accorded to a POW. After all, if someone isn't in an enemy combatant uniform, would it not stand to reason that they deserve a higher level of protection?

If not, we are arguing for "torture or intensive interrogation or whatever we want to call this based on suspicion alone" as official policy, a step further down a moral abyss. You could equally argue for a policy of shoot on suspicion, either of which would place us in a very unpleasant moral position.

With regards to the information war, the best way to win it is to lead the world in moral behavior. Now before anyone runs this statement down and accuse me of nutty leftist sympathies, let me say that I believe and trust we do very well in this respect; with certainty we do. The point is that we gain very little by watering our principles down using claims of the unusual cataclysmic nature of current events that somehow justify exceptions. Exceptions to principles we have illuminated for so long.

Rather we lose a hell of a lot, and we have done exactly that with the administrations fumblings on this issue, opening ourselves up to exploitation by the very forces you (and I) decry.

Posted by Toast_n_Tea at June 2, 2007 08:33 PM

There's a story about a tribe of Arabs in the ME a LONG time ago, maybe even pre-Islamic. Everyone had a compact, that you don't poison wells. These guys did; IOW, they violated the rules of warfare. Supposedly every other tribe in the area banded together and wiped that one out, and since then, nobody's violated that rule.

There's probably at least one lesson to be learned in the current conflict.

Posted by Rick C at June 2, 2007 10:13 PM

"First, they come from American law"

Well, no. Ethical standards precede law. Ideally, law codifies community ethics.

OTOH, if one signs on to the positivist school of law, then "law" is whatever gets put into the legal code, regardless of its justness or ethics.

So, whoever you are, "", try again.

Posted by MG at June 2, 2007 10:40 PM

Ethical standards precede law. Ideally, law codifies community ethics.

Fine, then. We can accept American law as an adequate representation of preexisting ethical standards. It's not perfect, but it's much better than nothing. There is no need to philosophize about the ultimate origins of morality or anything like that.

If the government simply used this codified standard in the war on terrorism, instead of escaping from it with offshore operations such as at Guantanamo, then it would do a much better job and act more ethically as well.

Posted by at June 2, 2007 11:21 PM

"There is no need to philosophize about the ultimate origins of morality or anything like that."

So, if the government enacts a law that permits what you are calling torture, will that be okay with you?

If the government enacts a law that simply releases unlawful combatants to American sponsors (kinda like an exchange student program), will that be okay with you?

How about if the government enacts a law that makes the unlawful combatants part of the police powers of government. Will THAT be okay with you?

Let's take a somewhat different tack. What dispositive law exists on the issue of specific procedures that you might call torture, and that I might not? Here is an analytical framework for you (whoever you are):

1. What makes a law "dispositive" in the US?
2. What has the judiciary said about YOUR CHOICE of procedures that you label "torture".

If you want to play, try responding constructively to these two.

Yes, the philosophizing IS important. I welcome you to think a bit more deeply about this.

Posted by MG at June 3, 2007 12:03 AM

I like to think of morality as merely a form of collective bargaining. For example, most of us have decided that we don't want the government snatching us off the street, torturing us, and detaining us indefinitely without arrest. We've decided as a society to call this unethical and 'immoral'.

Posted by at June 3, 2007 12:45 AM

After all, if someone isn't in an enemy combatant uniform, would it not stand to reason that they deserve a higher level of protection?

A person blends into civilized life, so they can easily be accepted by it. The civilians have no problem being accepting, but the combatant, not in uniform, is using the deception to lure as many victims into his trap as possible. If he gets caught, he can pretend to be civilized, thus bringing the entire civilization into question. If he doesn't get caught, he kills many civilian non-combatants. A person using this tactic deserves greater protection under the Geneva Convention?

Posted by Leland at June 3, 2007 04:22 AM

In the previous post on this subject, Toasty Tea had written this statement:

I disagree. I think the liberals are no less terrified, they simply react differently. I think it has much to do with the conservative "base", a base well nourished by media such as talk radio. That base, and that incessant drum beat from the base media has hijacked clear thinking from the conservative mind.

In other words, conservatives are nothing but talk-radio-hypnotized droolers, so we shouldn't listen to them. But my counter-comment -- that I came up with my ideas all on my ownsome, not because Rush Limbaugh said so, got this civilized response from Toasted Head:

Andrea you've just displayed the amazing deductive powers that make the modern conservative.

Not that I consider myself a liberal, but..

Jimmy Carter made them do it at Abu Ghraib!!Logic, redefined! And them think they are the natural heirs of the Greeks !

So what are your thoughts on Iraq? Oh, I shouldn't ask, silly me, wrong post. I await your intelligence displayed in complete fetid effervescence on another post.

Charming. Well then, in a similar spirit, and in language a "not a liberal" can understand, go to hell, with toast.

As for the nasty trolls that post here without even leaving their names, I don't talk to cowards.

Posted by Andrea Harris at June 3, 2007 06:08 AM

Andrea, my apologies for the use of uncivilized language in a previous comment thread. I culdn't fathom how you could infer that liberals were somehow responsible for Abu-Ghraib, had no idea how to answer the question you posed there: "what you gonna do with me?" and let my fingers run away with me.

Posted by Toast_n_Tea at June 3, 2007 07:02 AM

"A person using this tactic deserves greater protection under the Geneva Convention?"

No, the point I was trying to make there, which should have been clear from the context, is that the probability of false detection is very high in this situation. That, unlike the combatant in "uniform," who is in one way or the other easily categorized, the likelihood that a captive with no such recognizable feature is innocent is very high. Thus, that individual should be accorded the protection due a civilian noncombatant, at least until it can be proven that he or she is in fact a combatant.

Posted by Toast_n_Tea at June 3, 2007 07:26 AM

No, the point I was trying to make there, which should have been clear from the context, is that the probability of false detection is very high in this situation.

There is no need to discuss this as a hypothetical, because they have already tortured people who aren't combatants at all.

Posted by at June 3, 2007 08:15 AM

No, the point I was trying to make there, which should have been clear from the context, is that the probability of false detection is very high in this situation.

There is no need to discuss this as a hypothetical, because they have already tortured people who aren't combatants at all.

Posted by at June 3, 2007 08:15 AM

I didn't say liberals were responsible for Abu Ghraib. What I said was the goings-on at Abu Ghraib were the "predictable end result of thirty-odd years of liberals destroying American society to 'make it better,' and ending up with young people who think its funny to force prisoners to make naked pyramids." I didn't think I had to spell it out explicitly, but obviously there are people who can't see the forest for the trees. Well, here goes:

Back in the Fifties a whole animus against "repression" became fashionable. By the Sixties the impetus was to "tear down" all those bad old restrictive rules that were putting such a crimp in the fun good times of the Baby Boomers. By the Seventies many of these old-fashioned, outmoded institutions -- like sexual restraint -- were gone for good. The people who had participated in this wholesale destruction of the rules of civility that had governed society -- because, I remind you, they were seen as restrictive on fun fun fun -- had children. Some of these children grew up to be like Lynddie England.

So maybe liberals weren't directly responsible for Abu Ghraib. But they sure helped.

Posted by Andrea Harris at June 3, 2007 09:39 AM

I didn't say liberals were responsible for Abu Ghraib. What I said was the goings-on at Abu Ghraib were the "predictable end result of thirty-odd years of liberals destroying American society to 'make it better,' and ending up with young people who think its funny to force prisoners to make naked pyramids."

This is lame hair-splitting. You claim that you're not blaming liberals for Abu Ghraib, then you go back to blaming them.

Regardless of who is to blame for Abu Ghraib, the government has a duty to prosecute all crimes documented in that episode, in particular the worst crimes. It hasn't done that. Manadel al-Jamadi was tortured to death at Abu Ghraib in November, 2003. Photographs of his abused corpse have appeared on worldwide television many times. I don't care whether the man who killed him is a liberal, a conservative, a Zoroastrian, or a space alien. It's outrageous that he hasn't been indicted.

http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/11/14/051114fa_fact
http://www.villagevoice.com/blogs/bushbeat/archive/images/manadel-al-jamadi-corpse-co.jpg

Posted by at June 3, 2007 10:02 AM

Rand: I don't accept the conclusion, because I don't accept the premise.

I don't accept the relevance of the subtopic. While it may be helpful to persuade torturers of their crime's ineffectiveness, and thereby spare future victims, no decent person cares whether or not torture is effective. Were it the most reliable information gathering method ever developed, it would remain a crime against humanity in many ways worse than murder, and with no justification under any conceivable circumstance. Anyone who commits, orders, facilitates, incites, or in authority knowingly tolerates torture should be dealt with harshly, to the full limit and extent of the law. If the defendant wishes to argue they were trying to save lives, then a judge or jury can take that into consideration both during verdict and sentencing.

On the other hand, that doesn't imply that no information gained under duress is valid.

Point of information: "Duress" only refers to deliberately painful restraint and use of threats, not physical assault, although both constitute torture legally and as a matter of common sense.

And we aren't talking about inquisition, or confessions, here.

The majority of the torture has been to extract general information, including confessions of their own alleged conspiracies, the names of their alleged accomplices, people they've met or spoken with, places they've been, etc. Prisoners of the regime are tortured until they confess to something and implicate others, or until enough time passes (several years) without being implicated by another to release them.

We are talking about actionable (and often verifiable) information.

No, you're talking about torturing people.

For instance, if someone in custody knows the location of a kidnap victim, or a planted nuclear weapon, and they are unwilling to reveal it, what are we to do?

Whatever we can, which does not include torture. But if someone in authority truly believed there was no alternative, they wouldn't then try to cover up what they did, hide behind a wall of secrecy, and refuse to admit their actions. Nor would they refuse to have those actions judged in a court of law by their fellow citizens, whom they claim to have been protecting by destroying the very foundations of freedom.

Now whether or not it's immoral to attain such information by such means is a separate and debatable issue (unfortunately, we live in a complex world in which "it depends").

No, it does not depend. The existence of complexity does not invalidate or hinder moral clarity, anymore than the color spectrum makes purple difficult to distinguish from yellow. There are such things as right and wrong, and they are largely discernable by most honest people. The immorality of torture is absolute, and given that it's illegal even in countries that practice it routinely, only the most morally bankrupt would try to conjure ambiguity on such a question. The fact that we're even having this discussion in 21st century America is disgraceful and horrific.

But to say that one cannot obtain "useful information" by such means is nuts.

But why argue a moot point? One might also be able to obtain useful information by slowly dismembering a suspect's 6-year-old daughter in front of him, but that isn't an option either.

even if we concede that we torture captured illegal combatants (I don't, at least not as a matter of policy), it is only because we are sadists, and that Dick Cheney enjoys a good cigar, and quaffs an infant smoothie, while watching people being tortured, is nuts.

The idea may be inaccurate or incomplete, but it certainly isn't nuts. Sadism isn't a fictional phenomenon invented by comic book authors--there are real psychotics who find the rush of power from hurting others thrilling, and they seem to be instinctively attracted to right-wing politics. That doesn't define the right as sadistic, but its amorality and fixation on power are congenial to those who are, and they in turn influence conservative culture. A sadist will then try to legitimize their personality by expressing it in forms the group will accept, such as openly attacking the character and rights of the poor, foreigners, homosexuals, or any group of people they can be rewarded socially for trying to hurt. Most conservatives simply disdain the people they trample, or find them irrelevant, but they are more than willing to work with people who take active pleasure in hurting others so long as it stays under control. Dick Cheney is a sadist like this, as are John Ashcroft and Tom DeLay to name but a few, and his eager--one might even say, salivating--enthusiasm for every act of violence within his power to affect, has probably had a significant influence over the direction and intensity of the regime's torture program.

There seems to be a single-minded focus on the Geneva Conventions as protectors of prisoners' rights, even for prisoners who behave in utter violation of those Conventions.

Burden of the victor. The prisoners can be brought to trial for war crimes, but those committed against them will likely go unpunished. Ergo, the moral impetus must be on protecting the rights of prisoners throughout the process. Moreover, it doesn't matter if your prisoner is the worst war criminal who ever lived--even backhanding him once across the face while restrained is a crime.

To do so is to display a profound ignorance of the primary intent of the Conventions

The Conventions intend precisely what they say, including absolute prohibition of torture or mistreatment, and default assumption of POW status pending tribunal hearings. These requirements have been violated continuously and deliberately by the regime, and therefore merit war crimes charges against those involved.

a concept that our enemy holds in utter contempt.

Do you also hold it in contempt? Innocent people were tortured by this regime, and their attempts to seek justice have been universally rebuffed. You and others here have belittled their extreme suffering, portrayed them as deserving of their agony and post traumatic stress by virtue of ever being accused, and have gone so far as to call them all (and the ICRC, and Amnesty International) liars.

The Conventions require that those waging war accept the Conventions.

The world no longer believes the US accepts the Conventions, and your technicalities and weasel words in defense of torture don't help.

Why? Because if not, then there is no point in having them, since people who violate them would still be granted the benefit of them.

You have it backwards. An enemy has every interest in preventing its own soldiers from surrendering by provoking the other side to torture prisoners.

we have fought the most humane war in the history of humankind.

Rand, that's insane.

We have spent untold billions of dollars to develop precision weaponry that can destroy a building while leaving another one right next to it intact

Then used that weaponry to aggressively invade and conquer a country that had not attacked us, and would never likely have done so, resulting in over half a million innocent deaths and counting.

when we could instead simply wipe out a neighborhood, safely from the air.

That would be a waste of ordnance, and might deprive forces in the area of the roads and other useful infrastructure. But of course it's the Pentagon's famous respect for the lives of civilians that's really behind precision bombing. Lives they respect so much, they don't want to dishonor the dead by counting them.

When people unthinkingly demand that we grant the rights of standard POWs stipulated by the Conventions to illegal combatants, they are in effect demanding that we violate the Conventions, and they are in fact undermining the purpose of the Conventions.

Ah, so it'll undermine the purpose of the Geneva Conventions if we don't torture the prisoners, and the real humanitarians are the guys with the electrodes and testicle-hammers. In fact, one could say that Amensty International and the ICRC are guilty of torture, and the BTK killer should get the Nobel Peace Prize!

That's like worrying about what gangsters think about our occasional speeding tickets.

Entire world outside our borders = gangsters.
USA = hair's breadth shy of moral perfection.
Got it.

But when the focus in the news is on how awful we are

Well, how awful you (regime et al) are.

and how it's all our fault that Muslims murder Muslims in Iraq

It is your fault. What the hell did you expect, completely destroying the only thing holding the Sunnis and Shia together in a single state? And now you deny responsibility, like someone blowing up a police station and then pleading innocent to the pandemonium that follows.

it is giving the enemy exactly the kind of propaganda they want

That's what WE told YOU before you invaded Iraq, so stop funding al Qaeda's recruitment effort with American taxpayer money.

Posted by Brian Swiderski at June 3, 2007 10:41 AM

Dear "",

If you are the same "" that I have tried fencing with, your idea of "morality as collective bargaining" only applies to small groups, and doesn't respond at all to my questions to you.

On the other hand, if you aren't the same "", enjoy your adolescence. You will learn soon enough that the adult world is a good deal more complex, and you will need to develop a more sophisticated understanding of morality to avoid getting manipulated by others.

"no decent person cares whether or not torture is effective."

Mr. Swiderski, please consider me indecent.

Not indecent enough to regard inveterate liar Seymour Hersh as a reliable source, perhaps, but nonetheless indecent.

Respectfully submitted,

MG

Posted by MG at June 3, 2007 01:52 PM

"the experts disagree"

Really Rand please list the experts who support torture?

Posted by anonymous at June 3, 2007 02:23 PM

You will learn soon enough that the adult world is a good deal more complex, and you will need to develop a more sophisticated understanding of morality to avoid getting manipulated by others.

I know full well that American criminal law isn't perfect. But it's not all that broken. Waterboarding without consent is felony assault in any state of the union, which is as it should be. Even if the victim is a horrible criminal, it's still a felony.

I have no patience for any leader who thinks that American criminal law is a nuisance that they have to get around with secrecy and offshore operations. Those leaders are the real manipulators in this story, regardless of who you have in mind.

The rationalization that torture could be effective is irrelevant. We are well past the point of that strained what-if. Torture is not effective if it is kills the victim. It's not effective if the victim has no connection to combat or terrorism. It's not effective if the victim comes out with a raft of wild confessions with no credibility. We have now seen cases of all of these.

Posted by at June 3, 2007 02:25 PM

Mr. "",

"Waterboarding without consent is felony assault in any state of the union, which is as it should be."

Is it a felony under FEDERAL law? Under what circumstances? And which Supreme Court decision made a dispositive judgement regarding that?

If you are the same "", please quit throwing out distractors. Let's get to the core of this question.

Posted by MG at June 3, 2007 03:23 PM

If you are the same "", please quit throwing out distractors.

You know, after a while, it really gets hard to tell all these anonymous cowardly idiots apart.

Posted by Rand Simberg at June 3, 2007 03:35 PM

It is within your power to fix that Rand.

Posted by Mike Puckett at June 3, 2007 03:49 PM

Is it a felony under FEDERAL law?

Yes, assault is a felony under federal law when it is done in a federal territory which is not under state jurisdiction. US Code, section 113.

Of course the Administration knows that, so they have tried to keep these reprehensible activities out of federal territories but within de facto American control. To their discredit, some (but not all) courts have played along with this. Which is why it is time to take action at the voting booth.

Posted by at June 3, 2007 03:50 PM

Rand, I usually agree with you, and I explicitly DO agree that on the whole we're fighting this war in a humane fashion. However, having actually read the conventions:
"Illegal combatant" is from a 1942 Supreme Court ruling, which may have been superceded by the 1949 Geneva Conventions. The words "illegal combatant" aren't in the Convention.

Article 5 of the 4th Geneva Convention requires people be treated as POWs until a hearing "by competent tribunal" is held to determine otherwise. Once we hold said hearing, then we can decide if the combatants being held are ineligible for POW status. At that point, there's not much guidance either way in the Conventions.

My real problem with Gitmo is that we have a lot of dross in with the wheat. There are a lot of bad folks there, but until we separate them out from folks that were just grabbed up and sold to us by the Northern Alliance, it's a major black eye.

Somewhat unrelated thought regarding treatment of terrorists. Consider The Dread Pirate Bin Laden

Posted by Chris Gerrib at June 3, 2007 04:07 PM

Someone replied to my comment, but as they didn't even go to the trouble to fill in a fake name in the "name" field I'm not going to bother answering them. I only talk to real people.

Posted by Andrea Harris at June 3, 2007 05:13 PM

MG: Mr. Swiderski, please consider me indecent.

Then do you firmly side with the torturers, or is it just a matter of weak values?

Not indecent enough to regard inveterate liar Seymour Hersh as a reliable source, perhaps, but nonetheless indecent.

Slandering journalists is something right-wingers often do with one hand, but I'm perfectly willing to hear you out if there's any basis. In an era when most newsrooms are run by people who couldn't find the truth with a sherpa, and wouldn't dare to try for fear of losing their jobs, I mention a man whose work stays true to the fundamentals of the profession and your response is to call him an "inveterate liar." So either you have a damn good explanation of that statement, or that label belongs on you.

Posted by Brian Swiderski at June 3, 2007 05:15 PM

"In an era when most newsrooms are run by people who couldn't find the truth with a sherpa, and wouldn't dare to try for fear of losing their jobs, "

Yep, thats the Drive By Media in a nutshell. Sounds like the BBC described in the link in the thread Rand put at the top of the page a while ago regarding Israel.

Posted by Mike Puckett at June 3, 2007 05:26 PM

"Sy Hersh Says Itís Okay to Lie (Just Not in Print)"

http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/people/features/11719/

Mr. Swiderski,

Here is a logic question for you.

Mr. Hersh says that it is okay to lie, just not in print. But, he SAYS it. So, what does his statement logically mean? Would you care to diagram a truth table for us?

This is why I don't regard Mr. Hersh as a reliable "investigative journalist".

Regarding torture: Your definition is more restrictive than mine, and I am uninterested in trying to convince you otherwise. Just direct me to the SCUSA ruling that dispositively addresses the activities that concern you, and then we'll talk. Please don't bother me with non-USA judicial declarations. I place their legal value at zero.

I shall ever wear your scorn and condemnation as a badge of honor.

Warmest regards,

Posted by MG at June 3, 2007 09:06 PM

Yes, assault is a felony under federal law when it is done in a federal territory which is not under state jurisdiction. US Code, section 113.

Red herring. It's generally true in American law that violence against individuals is justified in cases of self-defense, so the notion that our criminal law forbids all violence against individuals is obviously false. Also, American criminal law does not apply to what our military people do overseas in a war. That's why the military has its own law governing behavior by military personnel, and why the USA participates in international treaties governing treatment of enemy combatants.

The real problem is that the nature of war has changed and the old rules no longer serve their intended purpose. The Bush administration has made good-faith attempts to address this problem by creating new procedures for dealing with non-uniformed enemy combatants. These procedures aren't perfect but they seem to be reasonable first attempts to adapt to changing realities. However, many of the Administration's critics, like the more shrill commenters here, refuse to suggest workable alternatives and instead insist that we return to a legal status quo anti that is obviously outmoded. And of course anyone who disagrees with them must be an enthusiast for torture, etc., etc.

It is important that we have good rules for how to treat our enemies, and suspected enemies, in wartime. But the rules have to be good or they won't be followed. If every suspected enemy combatant has to be Mirandized and treated like a domestic criminal suspect, one result is probably going to be more instances of informal torture, followed by more summary executions to avoid the hassles of detaining people whom we aren't allowed to interrogate effectively. Another result is likely to be more enemy combatants who are allowed to escape. What rules are likely to produce better outcomes?

Posted by Jonathan at June 4, 2007 09:21 AM

Yes, assault is a felony under federal law when it is done in a federal territory which is not under state jurisdiction. US Code, section 113.

I'm also pretty sure that restraining an adult, transporting them, and confining them without consent is illegal also. Except if you are a cop, or a soldier.

Posted by ech at June 4, 2007 10:59 AM

It's generally true in American law that violence against individuals is justified in cases of self-defense

Torture is not self-defense.

American criminal law does not apply to what our military people do overseas in a war.

Torture is also not a battlefield action; moreover, it's the civilian torturers who haven't been punished at all.

The Bush administration has made good-faith attempts to address this problem by creating new procedures for dealing with non-uniformed enemy combatants.

No possible administrative procedure can legalize torture. The Bush administration's "illegal combatant" procedures are in bad faith and have proven unworkable, even for their express purpose of establishing the guilt of detainees. But even if these procedures were in good faith, even if the detainees at Guantanamo had abrogated all of their rights for eternity, it would still be immoral and illegal to torture them. That is, it is illegal under American law, unless the government dishonorably revokes its own jursidiction from locations that it controls.

After all, dogs don't have rights, but it is even illegal to torture a dog in the United States. (At least in the 50 states.; unlike torturing people, this one might not be a federal law.)

If every suspected enemy combatant has to be Mirandized and treated like a domestic criminal suspect,

The ban on torture has nothing do with Mirandization. It has to do with treating human beings as human beings. It is especially bad if the victim isn't an actual terrorist or combatant, only a suspect. American interrogators have tortured non-combatants, and has had them tortured by other countries. But even if the victim were a proven terrorist with no standing rights, it would still be odious to American law and morality to torture him.

Again, in all of this, I am not tossing around the word "torture" casually. Waterboarding (without consent) is felony assault under American law. It is and was a Communist torture method; that is why the Army was familiar with it. No American recognized it as anything other than torture until the Bush Administration declared it "professional" interrogation.

Posted by at June 4, 2007 11:25 AM

Torture is not self-defense.

My point is that violence is not always unjustified morally or legally. Equating assault, which by definition is unjustified, with torture, which may or may not be justified, begs the question. We are still missing a satisfactory answer about what to do about ticking-bomb situations and (related) enemy fighters who look like civilians. In those cases torture may indeed be justified as self-defense in some cases. There are costs and benefits, and I don't think it's adequate to say that we should treat human beings as human beings. There would not be a controversy now if our current rules were adequate to deal with the situation. I think this means we have to consider new approaches.

Torture is going to happen no matter what the rules are, because in some situations torture will be too useful not to engage in. I think the alternatives are either to 1) preserve the old approach and turn a blind eye to torture, 2) preserve the old approach and crack down on torture, thereby probably getting Americans killed and making us less effective militarily, or 3) recognize that torture may sometimes be justified, and try to create a regulatory and supervisory framework that allows it under carefully defined circumstances while minimizing abuses. I suppose there is also a fourth option: we could avoid the hassle by summarily executing non-uniformed combatants as the Geneva rules currently allow.

Posted by Jonathan at June 4, 2007 04:02 PM

Mr "" (whichever "" you are),

How do you know that no civilians have been punished?

How do you establish the facts of the matter? Are you in a position to prove the negative?

I ask you this:

Would you prefer that:

a. We have military tribunals declare someone an unlawful combatant, and summarily execute them, or

b. Declare them an unlawful combatant, aggressively question them, INCLUDING water-boarding, and then detain them indefinitely.

Which do you prefer, and why?

And, if you ARE the same "", please provide at least SOME response to my query about dispositive SCUSA rulings regarding these matters.

Best regards,

Posted by MG at June 4, 2007 05:16 PM

How do you know that no civilians have been punished?

I stand corrected. Exactly one American civilian has been tried and convicted of torture in the war on terrorism: David Passaro. The pursuit of justice has been far from perfect in this case, but it was at least much better than nothing. In June, 2003, Passaro tortured to death an innocent Afghan suspect named Abdul Wali. It is bad that it took four years to bring this man to justice, and worse that Passaro was only charged with aggravated assault. Torturing a man to death is at the very least voluntary manslaughter, when it is not murder outright. Still, it is a relief that Passaro was sentenced to eight years in prison, assuming that he actually serves that long.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Passaro

We have military tribunals declare someone an unlawful combatant, and summarily execute them

There are plenty of case in the pipeline, or not even in the pipeline, in which American interrogators tortured people who were never declared anything by any tribunal. But even when a man is declared an unlawful combatant by a military tribunal, summary execution would be a lynching, and therefore murder, unless there is an explicit death sentence. To date no American tribunal or court has issued a death sentence in the war on terrorism.

Declare them an unlawful combatant, aggressively question them, INCLUDING water-boarding, and then detain them indefinitely.

Regardless of what any tribunal declares anybody, waterboarding as an interrogation method is torture and is therefore a criminal act within American jurisdiction.

Please provide at least SOME response to my query about dispositive SCUSA rulings regarding these matters.

If you want to be a legal eagle on torture, you can go read SCUSA rulings yourself. I won't carry your water for you. The Passaro case shows that even a CIA agent who tortures people overseas is not beyond the reach of American law. At least in principle; there are other men like Passaro who have not (yet) been charged with anything.

Unfortunately Passaro was also not beyond the reach of dishonorable leniency. But some justice is better than none.

Posted by at June 4, 2007 06:30 PM

Mr. "",

My question remains, how do you KNOW that no one else has been punished? Is Wikipedia truly your measure of merit?

My question about SCOTUS rulings remains. You declare that the US is acting illegally. I maintain that you have the burden of evidence to demonstrate that SCOTUS has ruled definitively. Otherwise, your claim of specific acts of interrogation being illegal remains a matter of opinion, not law. If, that is, you are interested in convincing me of your point of view.

On the other hand, if you just want to spout and fume, please, just make that explicitly clear, and I'll cease asking you for the basis of your opinion.

Posted by MG at June 4, 2007 10:06 PM

"waterboarding as an interrogation method is torture and is therefore a criminal act within American jurisdiction"

If you can't point to dispositive judicial precedent on this, then you offer your personal opinion. I contend it isn't, and am glad Khalid Sheik Mohammed got waterboarded, and divulged whatever he divulged.

Mere waterboarding is better than he deserved.

Posted by MG at June 4, 2007 10:14 PM

My question remains, how do you KNOW that no one else has been punished? Is Wikipedia truly your measure of merit?

When Wikipedia references multiple reliable sources, then it is reliable. It would be better if you read references before asking questions.

You declare that the US is acting illegally.

No, I declare that either the torturers are acting illegally, or the government is acting reprehensibly in exonerating them. (Not to mention, hypocritically and dishonestly.) Ultimately, the government can exonerate any bad behavior if it so chooses. It could legalize genocide, in principle. This is why the voting booth is an important guarantor of decency in America. (One of several.)

Otherwise, your claim of specific acts of interrogation being illegal remains a matter of opinion, not law.

There is no question that torturing a man to death should be illegal, and that Bush and everyone else have promised to take action against it. But they have stopped short of that promise.

As for waterboarding, you have Porter Goss and Dick Cheney and Fox News saying that it isn't torture. (At least not when you do it to WoT detainees.) Their say-so is reprehensible, and hopefully it will not affect the law. Unfortunately the Supreme Court could empower their position since it is pretty stacked these days. So was Congress until 2006, although they were held back (some) by McCain, and by the pretense that everyone in Congress is against torture.

The Court has not ruled on the matter yet, though, Although it's not clear that it needs to.

Posted by at June 4, 2007 10:29 PM

Mr. "",

"torturing a man to death" is not equal to "water boarding", even if water boarding could, theoretically, create a stress event that results in death. I thought we were discussing water boarding and its legality.

If a death has occurred, I support investigation. If the investigation reveals probable cause for a violation of law, I support a trial. If a conviction occurs, I support sentencing, and a carrying out of that sentence. On this, I think we agree.

HOWEVER, I do not regard water boarding as torture. I do not regard it as something that is, or should be, categorically illegal. On this, we will continue to disagree.

Despite my opinion, I WILL accept that it IS illegal if someone, ANYONE can show me the dispositive SCUSA ruling. So far as I can tell, the law is not settled on this question.

Posted by MG at June 4, 2007 10:43 PM

If you can't point to dispositive judicial precedent on this, then you offer your personal opinion. I contend it isn't, and am glad Khalid Sheik Mohammed got waterboarded, and divulged whatever he divulged.

They are keeping the facts to themselves regarding what exactly Sheikh Mohammed divulged with or without waterboarding. The idea that torture is ever useful for interrogations is debatable. The idea that it's outright necessary, that we can know that he wouldn't have cooperated without it, is untenable and dishonest.

What we can know is that the government is willing to lie in defense of disreputable secret methods of doing its job. If the government wanted to kidnap tax deliquents without a warrant, and if it could keep it a secret, then it would call it a success.

And we also know that Seikh Mohammed confessed to a raft of wild fabrications, just as you might expect from someone who has been tortured. I don't know why the government released this information, given that it makes the process look bad, but it did.

Mere waterboarding is better than he deserved.

Now the real reason comes out. Never mind whether it's useful, he deserved it, and more. But it's not about what Sheikh Mohammed deserves, it's about what we deserve. We Americans do not deserve to be torturers. The terrorists want us to do this. They are not only sadists, but also masochists. (Obviously, since they engage in suicide bombings.) They want us to abandon our decency. We should not oblige them.

Posted by at June 4, 2007 10:49 PM

I do not regard water boarding as torture.

It is torture, and it is illegal, if it is done on American soil. It was always torture when the Communists did it. It is therefore always torture, anywhere, whether or not it is legal. For the ethical argument, no more needs to be said than that.

(Once again, this does not count the staged waterboarding stunt that was done on Fox News. Waterboarding without consent is mock execution.)

Posted by at June 4, 2007 10:54 PM

"They want us to abandon our decency."

Ayup: Tokyo. Dresden. Berlin. Monte Cassino.

Somehow, these "abandonments" of decency weren't actually abandonment. Rather, they were a setting aside of "our decency". Not to be done lightly, but not permanent, either.

Welcome to war. One can run, but one can't hide.

Not to worry, though. No one demands indecency of you. Or me, either.

Posted by MG at June 5, 2007 12:03 AM

TRUTH: "We have spent untold billions of dollars to develop precision weaponry that can destroy a building while leaving another one right next to it intact"

LIE: "Then used that weaponry to aggressively invade and conquer a country that had not attacked us, and would never likely have done so, resulting in over half a million innocent deaths and counting."

When Saddam shot at our planes in the no fly zone he was attacking us! or is it only when he personally attacks your ass specifically that it counts?

Posted by ken anthony at June 5, 2007 04:04 PM

The Geneva Convention does not apply to enemy belligerents out of uniform.

Therefore: Since it is extremely unlikely that any further useful intelligence can be obtained form the inmates; simply shoot them all. And cremate them wrapped in bacon, and dump the ashes on the nearest landfill. Which is better than they deserve.

Posted by Fletcher Christian at June 7, 2007 04:39 PM

When Saddam shot at our planes in the no fly zone he was attacking us!

The no-fly zones weren't part of the cease-fire, they were a bilateral demand by the US and British after Saddam massacred the Shiite and Kurdish uprisings. He technically had every right to shoot at our planes, and we accepted that because his ability to hit them was minimal. I repeat: We had not been attacked, never would have been attacked, and neither would neighboring countries. Iraq was prostrate, regardless of Saddam's bluster, and their weakness is precisely why the Cheney regime chose to conquer them.

Posted by Brian Swiderski at June 9, 2007 10:49 AM


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